Gardening has become one of my favorite hobbies over the last few years. It’s relaxing to me, and it’s quite a feeling of accomplishment when you watch your plants flourish and produce beautiful blooms, fruits, and vegetables. I am by no means a gardening expert, but I have learned quite a few tips for beginner gardeners that have made a huge difference!
I actually was not super into plants and gardening when I was growing up. In fact, helping my parents in the yard was one of my least favorite things to do. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate the process of nurturing my own plants and growing my own food. I love the process and routine. And, even though I’m not the biggest fan of tomatoes, I was super proud of the tomato plants we grew last year. And the peppers, herbs, and flowers.
I started some light container gardening when I lived in my last apartment. Nothing crazy, just some herbs: mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, and parsley. They were only mildly successful, though, since my apartment was on the back of the building and didn’t get quite enough sunlight. But once my fiancé and I planned to move in together, one of the first things we planned was a garden. We both wanted to grow some vegetables and herbs, and I wanted to try my hand at some cut flowers.
Gardening is an ongoing learning experience. Each season brings new knowledge, best practices, and optimizations that lead to better yields. I am nowhere near an expert, but I’ve learned a lot in the last two years. I can’t wait to apply what we learned last year to this year’s garden, and to continue building our knowledge.
Here are some of my best tips for beginner gardeners.
From one fellow beginner gardener to the next!
Do your research. We did very little research our first year, and in the end, it showed. Our plants were only mildly productive, and we lost a lot to blight. We spent a lot of time in the “offseason” reading and watching lots of YouTube videos. Epic Gardening is one of our favorite channels for tips and information. I also recommend picking up a copy of the Farmer’s Almanac.
Pay attention to sunlight and shade. Notice which parts of your yard (or patio or porch or wherever you’re planting) get the most of each, and plan your plants accordingly. Don’t plant tomatoes in shady areas, or hostas in super sunny beds!
Invest in a higher quality soil. If you’re doing pots, containers, or raised beds, it is so worth it to get a higher quality soil. Our local nursery has their own “house” blend that has done well for us. We also had good results with the Dr. Earth brand.
Of course, if you have your own compost, or access to compost, mix that in with your soil for extra fertilizer and nutrients.
Also worth noting, there are differences between top soil, potting soil, and garden soil! Potting soil is formulated to retain moisture and drain better than top soil. Make sure you’re getting the right kind for your setup.
Pay attention to the weather. Watch precipitation and temperature forecasts, as those can impact how you care for your plants. If it gets too cold, you’ll have to cover your plants (an old bed sheet works just fine). If it gets sweltering hot, like it can here in Tennessee in the summers, you may have to give them extra water. But be careful, because…
Overwatering is a real thing! Some plants, like rosemary, succulents, and a lot of shrubs, are super hardy and don’t need a ton of watering. Overwatering and/or poor soil drainage can lead to root rot, mold, blight, and all kinds of detriments to your plants. Be mindful of your watering schedule, and take rainy forecasts into account. Last year, we watered our plants every other day (unless of course there was rain in the forecast).
Watering tip: do not water directly onto the plant foliage! This could cause mold or browning. Instead, water the soil and ground at the base of the plant so it’s better absorbed by the plants’ roots.
Stakes and cages are your friends. Bigger plants need extra support! Stakes or cages will help taller plants not fall over or grow crooked. Buy tomato cages early so you have them on hand whenever you need them. Garden stakes work well for peppers and shorter plants, and for flowers like Dahlias. Stakes and cages should be pretty cheap at your local garden store or Home Depot.
Pruning matters. Especially with vegetables! Regular pruning helps your plants grow stronger and stay healthy for longer, and ideally produce more fruit or blooms. Pinch off leaves or stems that aren’t getting a lot of light or that may be turning brown. Remove dead flower buds so they don’t damage the rest of the plant. This video is a great explainer for pruning tomato plants. Here is a good one for pruning peppers.
Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start small in your first year or two of gardening. Grow what you know you will eat and use, or otherwise preserve. It’s easy to get excited and try to grow a bunch of different plants. Stick to a few favorites, and then expand as you feel more comfortable with your space, soil, and routines.
One of my favorite things about gardening is how much I learn every year. I can’t wait to update this post next year with even more tips for beginner gardeners that I gain this season.